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The gums are tough tissues that surround and hold the teeth in place. They can range in color from red or pink to brown or black.
Good oral health is essential for overall well-being. Changes in the color of the gums can indicate an underlying health problem, so a person should speak to a doctor to determine the cause.
There is a range of conditions that can cause black gums, including:
The body naturally produces melanin, a substance that gives the skin, hair, and eyes their color. The more melanin a person has in their body, the darker their hair, skin, or eyes will be.
Dark brown or black gums may be due to a person having more melanin in the body. If a person’s gums have always been very dark, there is no cause for concern.
If the gum color changes over a short period, however, or if patches of black appear on the gums, it is probably not caused by melanin and may indicate a medical issue.
Smoking can cause discolored gums. This is known as smoker’s melanosis.
Specialized cells in the body called melanocytes make melanin. The nicotine in tobacco can cause melanocytes to produce more melanin than usual.
Gums may become more brown or black. The change in color can appear in patches or affect the entire inside of the mouth. The inside of the cheeks and lower lip may also change color.
Research has found a link between quitting smoking and reduced gum discoloration. This suggests that darker patches of color on the gums caused by smoking may be reversible.
Minocycline is used to treat acne and some infections, such as chlamydia. An uncommon side effect of minocycline is pigmentation or discoloration, which can sometimes occur in the mouth.
A person should speak to their doctor about any discolorations caused by medications, as alternative drugs may be available.
An amalgam tattoo can appear anywhere in the mouth but usually appears next to a filling. It looks like a black, grey, or blue patch inside the mouth.
Amalgam is a mix of metals used to make fillings and crowns. If particles of this material get dislodged, it can show up under the skin of the gum.
Treatment is not usually needed for amalgam tattoos, as they do not pose any health risks.
Acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis is a gum infection that is also known as trench mouth. It causes fever, painful gums, and bad-smelling breath. An infection can cause black or grey gums if a layer of dead tissue builds up over the gums.
Trench mouth results from the rapid growth of bacteria in the mouth, usually due to gingivitis. Bacteria may build up because of poor oral hygiene, stress, lack of sleep, or an unhealthful diet.
Early symptoms of trench mouth include bleeding gums, bad breath, lots of saliva in the mouth, and feeling ill. Ulcers may form on the gums at the edge of the teeth.
Treatment is straightforward. A dentist will clean the mouth and may prescribe antibiotics.
Rinsing the mouth with medicated mouthwash and keeping teeth and gums clean will help prevent repeat infections.
Addison’s disease affects the adrenal glands, which make a variety of hormones. The disorder stops these glands from producing enough hormones.
Early symptoms include:
As Addison’s disease progresses, a person may experience darkened gums and lips. The medical term for this is hyperpigmentation.
As well as affecting the lips and gums, Addison’s disease can cause darker patches of skin in other areas of the body. The most common places where dark patches may develop are on the knees, knuckles, in the lines of the palms, and around scars.
Most cases of Addison’s disease are due to a problem with the immune system. This causes the body to attack and damage the adrenal glands.
Addison’s disease can cause severe complications if left untreated. If hormone levels drop too low, it can cause an adrenal crisis.
Symptoms of an adrenal crisis include severe dehydration, fast and shallow breathing, drowsiness, and pale, clammy skin. An adrenal crisis is a medical emergency.
Peutz-Jeghers syndrome is a genetic condition that can increase the risk of developing polyps or cancer.
One of the early symptoms is the appearance of dark blue or dark brown freckles. These can appear in the mouth as well as on the skin of the fingers and toes.
Peutz-Jeghers freckles typically appear in childhood and disappear with age. Another key symptom is bleeding or a blockage in the gut, which usually also occurs in childhood.
A genetic test can show if a person has Peutz-Jeghers syndrome.
Treatment for black gums will depend on the underlying cause. Conditions such as gum infections or Addison’s disease will usually need treatment with medication.
It may be possible to reverse changes in gum color that are caused by smoking. A doctor should be able to give advice and support on quitting smoking.
Cosmetic dentists may offer gum bleaching to lighten the color of the gums. However, bleaching can cause damage to gums and should only be done by a registered professional.